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Jenny Jimenez
A columnist for the New York Times, author of the bestselling memoir, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, and former Stranger critic, Seattle writer Lindy West is known around the world for her vivid commentary on and critiques of conventional culture. She uses humor and her particular brand of keen insight to cut through many of our cherished or unchallenged beliefs. She also offers support to platforms like I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault, and #ShoutYourAbortion. Because West has an upcoming talk in Seattle slated for April 15 at Benaroya Hall—called "The Witches Are Coming"—we decided to catch up with her to find out what brings her joy, how she writes her NYT columns, and what was the weirdest thing that happened to her this year.

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As someone who often writes about the things that are fucked up in our society, what are some of the things you love? Like, what’s made you laugh or tear up with joy recently?

I know I write about gloomy things a lot of the time, but I’m a pretty happy person. I love spending time with my family. [My husband] Aham and I just went on a crazy road trip. We drove from Houston to Seattle. It was fascinating and fun and weird to drive through the American Heartland during this moment in history. I also love television… We have two kids, 14 and 16, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to educate them about things that are good. We’ve been trying to introduce the older one to The Sopranos, that’s our latest project. I also watch a lot of Forensic Files and home remodeling shows. I’m very lowbrow.

When you have a new column to write, what is your process like from blank page to emailing the draft?

Oh, god, it’s terrible. I’m terrible. I’m the worst. I’m very undisciplined. I can’t do anything without a deadline. So, I pitch my editor and we figure out what the column is going to be. Then I kind of just sit there and stare at a blank page for, you know, like, 12-24 hours. And when I do that, I rationalize it by telling myself that something is happening during that time. I don’t know if that’s true or not—but, basically, once the panic starts in, which is usually around 4 in the morning, I start grinding it out. Word-by-word, it comes out. I usually turn in pretty finished drafts. I don’t usually end up being edited very heavily, perhaps to my detriment. So, I have no one to blame but myself for anything that doesn’t come out very well!

But, yeah, it’s kind of this process of thinking and thinking and thinking and trying to figure out a way in. I don’t know if this is weird or not, but I write chronologically. I write the first paragraph to the last paragraph without much moving around. So, it’s hard to get started without coming up with a really great lead. And sometimes that takes all day. That’s kind of how it works. Once the dread and panic set in, then I just do it. And if I get to a point where someone is emailing me and they’re at least mildly annoyed because I’m taking too long, then it’s on!

What does your writing space look like?

I don’t have a writing space. I used to have an office in our house but once our kids became teenagers, they wanted their own rooms, they didn’t want to share a room. And I found myself always writing in the living room, anyway. I thought, this is no big deal! I’ll give up my office and let it be a teenager’s room. So, now, I full-time in the living room. Turns out, though, it’s not a great place to write all the time. So a lot of work happens at coffee shops. I do weird stuff like go to my mom’s house and sit in her basement just to be some place different and in a place that’s not the living room or a coffee shop. You can only drink so much coffee before it feels like a medical emergency. Now, I’m in the thick of working on my next book, so thankfully I’ve found—I haven’t moved in yet—but I’ve found an office space. I’m going to start to be a real writer soon!

As more and more has changed in your life, how have you changed?

I think as you get older, you definitely start to reevaluate how you spend your time. I feel like there are things that used to be important to me that now I just don’t think about anymore. Like going out and drinking and having a hangover. I think the older you get and the more you learn and the more open-minded you are and all that—at least for me, there are all kinds of contradictions in just being an American that are not resolvable. Like the fact that we live on stolen land and we don’t do anything about it.

I think a big part of my reaction to Donald Trump and our political system is feeling a protectiveness over my country that I didn’t realize I had. I’m discovering that America meant something to me and I’m offended that someone would exploit it the way it’s being exploited. But then I come up against this idea that America itself, its existence, is violent and exploitive. So what am I feeling protective of? I’m feeling protective over something that is oppressive.

The more you dig into those ideas, the more complicated they become to resolve. This is stuff I think about all the time and I don’t have an easy solution. But I’m also grateful for that confusion. I’d rather be a person that is failing in a certain way with my eyes open then feeling fine and totally oblivious.

What’s the best or weirdest thing that’s happened to you this year?

I went to the Oscars. That was the weirdest for sure. The Oscars are so crazy. You think, like, oh it’s the Oscars, they must have a separate pen where they keep the regular people. But no! You’re just going up an escalator behind Helen Mirren. She’s just there being perfect. It’s a trip—really strange. I didn’t go into it planning to be impressed. Celebrity is so weird. It’s not like famous people are better than—well, Helen Mirren is better than us. There is just something so interesting about seeing how culture gets made.

"The Witches Are Coming"—which we hope has something to do with her brilliant and blistering October 2017 NYT column “Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You”—happens at Benroya Hall on April 15.